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SHERYL CROW SHOWS SHEA'S CROWD SHE KNOWS HOW TO HAVE FUN

It was a delightfully weird moment

the kind that makes a concert night worthwhile.

Sheryl Crow, bathed in eerie purple light, slouched on stage in a wingback chair and launched into her mega-hit, "All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun)."

But instead of the version you have heard until you want to kick your car radio onto the expressway, she had something completely different in mind.

"It's so-o-o pulp fiction," said Crow, doing a little 1960s-style Batman dance before she talked, instead of sang, the lyrics and her band played bongos and acoustic guitar behind her.

Equal parts poetry slam, Jack Kerouac and John Travolta, this little piece of genius was all that was needed to show the breadth of the Midwestern singer's talent.

Later -- during a less-than-sold-out show Sunday night in Shea's Performing Art Center -- Crow rocked out with a spirited reprise of the same song that had the crowd jumping to its feet.

Crow -- who switched easily throughout her 1 1/2 -hour show from electric and acoustic guitar to keyboard and even accordion -- was a slight figure on stage in her faded jeans, ruffled blouse and suede vest.

And there are those who wonder if her talent, too, isn't rather slight, or at least out of proportion with the amount of attention she received in the past year.

And yet, her voice was strong, her band played hard and the songs from her extremely popular CD, "Tuesday Night Music Club," sounded fine. (And she played nearly all of them.)

Nothing to complain about; a lot to like.

Crow's success may look sudden, but she's been working on it for a long time.

At the University of Missouri, she made extra money by coaching fraternities on their brotherhood songs. She taught music to grade school kids, sang jingles for McDonald's, then -- after a move west -- became a backup singer for Michael Jackson during his 1988 world tour, a job that involved donning a high-piled blond wig every night.

Now that Crow's career has taken off -- she won three Grammys earlier this month, and her CD has sold more than 3 million copies -- she seems remarkably down-to-earth about it.

When audience members screamed her name, she peered out from her mass of curls and shrugged.

"That's so nice," she said. "I'm having a case of low self-esteem right now."

The talented but far less charismatic opening act, Freedy Johnston, provided a sharp contrast to Crow's rapport with the audience. He immediately baffled the crowd by saying, "It's great to be in Boston," then tried to make up for it by putting down chicken wings.

In his baggy T-shirt, deck shoes and Price Waterhouse haircut, the Kansas singer/songwriter looked slightly comical on stage. But his songs -- many from his recent CD, "This Perfect World" -- feature engaging melodies and some memorable lyrics.

But there was no comparison to Crow's showmanship. Except for a brief interlude that Crow called her "mini unplugged" -- in which her four-member band relaxed on couches in a setting that
looked like Grandma's living room, complete with fringed lamps -- the show was much more rock than pop. It even included covers of Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker" and Derek and the Dominoes' "Keep on Growing."

As a result, there was not much trace of Crow as a sensitive balladeer -- instead she came off as a rocker. And that was good to see.

Crow, 33, comes from a musical family in a Missouri farm town, where she and her three siblings shared four pianos with parents who played in an amateur swing band.

But she didn't look like an extraordinary guitarist; rather, she was mostly content to strum chords and let her band do the heavy lifting.

Her stage presence is low-key but charming.

She said early on in the evening that she dreamed that she would get on stage in Buffalo and "nobody would be here."

"Let me say," she added, "that I'm happy you are."

Judging by the aisle-dancing and screams of "I love you, Sheryl," so were a lot of other people.

Review Sheryl Crow Pop Singer-songwriter Sunday night at Shea's Performing Arts center.

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